I love a good challenge as much as the next kid. So if I see a fitness ad that says "Join my 30 Day Squat Challenge" (or whatever the challenge may be), my finger hovers over the mouse, itching to click. I want to sign up. I can almost imagine what my thighs will look like after the challenge. It feels almost too good to be true.
But frankly, I also know myself.
I'll start very excited – thrilled to be part of the challenge. I'll do the day 1 exercise enthusiastically, and maybe even day 2. But I can guarantee, if I see day 3, it's a true miracle.
I'm not the only one. I've run challenges as part of my coaching practice, and they attract hoards of people. The excitement is palpable at the start. Everyone is looking for a quick transformation.
And then, they become like me. After a few days, their participation skids to a halt, and you wonder if they have relocated to somewhere the internet doesn't exist. Out of all the eager and excited participants, only a few will finish the challenge.
I don't get upset, however. Everyone starts a fitness challenge with the best intentions; however, those intentions don't often align with real life. Perhaps the kids need to go in six different directions after school, but your spouse needs the car for an appointment. That "thing" your boss needs you to do takes more time than you thought, and you'll be late getting home, throwing your schedule off. And sometimes, you spend the time you could be exercising on social media scrolling through pictures of people exercising.
We've all been there – no reason to hide or be ashamed of it.
But there are ways to succeed with a 30-day challenge, and I want to share those tips with you.
#1: Set a SMART Goal
Bill Copeland once said, "the trouble with not having a goal is that you can spend your life running up and down the field and never score ." However, any goal won't do; it's the kind of goal you make matters towards your success. Choosing a lofty and vague goal such as "I want to get fit" doesn't give you anything to strive for other than wanting to be different from what you are right now.
SMART stands for "specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-bound" – and it's one of the best ways to create a goal for yourself. For example, let's say you want to continually jog 5km by the end of 30 days – that is an example of a SMART goal. It tells you exactly what you're shooting for and is doable considering the timeframe. Once your SMART goal is written down, you can find the appropriate 30-day challenge to help you get there. Perhaps you'll find a Coach to 5km program or a 30-day running program to help plan your runs.
#2: Set Your Expectations
Thirty days isn't enough time to see a dramatic physical change after completing a challenge – even if you consistently partake in each day's exercises. However, 30 days is enough to feel a measurable shift within your body. For example, you may feel lighter, sleep better, feel less stressed, breathe better going up the stairs, or notice that your pants are looser.
It's important to note that even if a challenge guarantees a particular form of success, this success is not standard for everyone who participates. A better way to approach each challenge is to view it as a vehicle in which you may see success. And yes, do remember that success looks like will be different for everyone.
Setting realistic expectations of what you'll see and experience over the 30 days will make you less likely to get frustrated and ghost the challenge before you see results.
#3: Have a buddy system
Having an accountability partner in the challenge will help keep your motivation high. However, choosing the right kind of buddy matters. According to research by the University of Aberdeen, having a new exercise partner who can offer emotional support can make you more successful. What was interesting about their research is that having a partner who provides emotional support was a stronger predictor of success than having someone you couldn't cancel a session on.
#4: Set your winning strategy
I'm a big supporter of celebrating every small win along the journey. A lot of people make the mistake of only celebrating when they've reached the end. But in doing so, they miss vital opportunities to keep their motivation high. Our brains respond to positive thinking, and actively seeking out ways to celebrate wins creates more motivation to win some more. Susan Reynolds's article Happy Brain, Happy Life for Psychology Today says, "You are what you think you are, and all of your actions proceed from thought." Essentially, if you think like a winner, you will be a winner. It could be celebrating the fact it took you less time to do your squat challenge today than expected or that you did the challenge without complaint. Whatever the win, no matter how small, celebrate it, even by communicating your win to your buddy – that's what they are there for.
#5: Have the end game in mind
Thirty-day challenges are a great way to kick off your fitness journey, and they give you a plan to get you from day 1 to day 30. But what happens after day 30? Do you stop and waste all your results, or do you have an "end game" in mind? How do you continue this journey? It could be as simple as signing up for another 30-day challenge that focuses on something else. On the other hand, you may have something more elaborate in mind, such as purchasing personal training sessions, finding a running group, or joining a group fitness class. Whatever it is, don't" let the magic fade – keep going in this new life!
Jen Thomas is a Chennai-based weight-loss coach